Scientists put Apollo Beach on the world map recently and it isn’t about manatees. The Florida Aquarium Apollo Beach scientists have accomplished something that could have a significant global impact on the decline of coral reefs, and offer new hope for a resurgence worldwide.

The breakthrough in research came in August when scientists were able to get endangered Atlantic pillar coral to spawn through lab-induced techniques for the first time in history. This incredible event occurred at the research laboratory at The Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation in Apollo Beach as part of their Project Coral. The project’s intent was to somehow mimic the complex processes that get corals to spawn and do it in the laboratory where it can be controlled and replicated.

Cracking The Coral Reef Spawning Code

The effort to spawn Atlantic corals in the lab had never been done before, but the Florida Aquarium partnership with London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens has finally cracked the code. Using advanced LED technology and computer systems designed to replicate the complex process of nature that would simulate sunrises, sunsets, moon phases, temperature, and water quality was no small task. Their efforts had to signal the corals to reproduce, which had previously never been done because there is no margin for error when you are trying to mimic and fool Atlantic corals to spawn.

But what are the implications following this scientific breakthrough?

Hope For The Worlds Coral Reefs

Make no mistake about it, the intent, if not the hope for this new capability is to ultimately save coral reefs in Florida and the Caribbean. More specifically it is the goal of the Apollo Beach scientists to save the Florida Reef Tract from extinction. Though many of the world’s scientists were at the very least skeptical that the complex Atlantic pillar coral could actually be coaxed to spawn in the laboratory, the Florida Aquarium dedicated significant resources and expertise to achieve this monumental breakthrough. Their commitment to saving North America’s only barrier reef is clearly centered inside the Apollo Beach facility.

The Florida Reef Tract

Coral Disease - Florida Reef TractThe Florida Reef Tract is the only extensive shallow coral reef formations near the coast of the continental United States. The rare reefs are over 300 miles long and extend from the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County to the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico. The most productive area of this fragile reef is near the Florida Keys, but the most significant living coral reef within the United States is right next to the island chain of the Florida Keys. This majestic coral reef contains unique coral formations which are similar to the ones growing in the Bahamas and the Caribbean Sea.

The problem facing the fragile coral reef system off the Florida southern coast is that have been encountering an outbreak of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease for multiple years since 2015. The fairly common coral disease isn’t the biggest challenge, rather it is the large area that is affected, the length of the outbreak, the speed that it is progressing and the high death rate of the species which are vulnerable to the illness. To make matters even more acute, the tissue loss disease can be transmitted to other corals easily, requiring researches to promptly find resistant corals that can fight the disease, as well as uncovering ways to quickly breed corals to replace those that are in danger.

A Long Journey Seeing Results

Joining forces in late 2017, The Florida Aquarium and the Horniman Museum and Gardens, set out to save coral reefs by predictably inducing corals to spawn in the laboratory. The plan was to assist with coral restoration within the Atlantic species in a similar way that had been done only with Pacific coral species. The partnership utilized the research protocols developed in the Horniman’s lab in London, applying them in the Apollo Beach coral conservation facilities. After months of trying to mimic the natural coral environment with technology, The Florida Aquarium coral conservation team was finally able to achieve success.

We are proud to see those amazing efforts to protect and restore our beautiful Florida reefs are centered right here in our little Apollo Beach community. It is one thing to have the majestic beauty around us every day, it is another thing to be ground zero in the effort to maintain it for generations to come. We are thankful for the local scientists that have put our beloved Apollo Beach on the world stage for something that has such an incredible impact for the planet.

Photo Credits: The Florida Aquarium

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